Don't Panic, Trust Facebook (says Facebook)

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According to Facebook's chief security officer, Joe Sullivan, safety is the social networking site's top priority. Indeed, he says that his team are dedicated to "creating an environment where people can connect and share comfortably" and has revealed a redesigned Safety Centre which provides new safety resources for parents, educators, teens and members of the law enforcement community. However, there's one thing missing, a big red thing with the word PANIC stamped on it. That's right, despite high profile campaigning by various child safety groups across the UK, Facebook still has no big red panic button.

Sullivan insists that Facebook learns "from and with the most trusted safety organizations in the world" and has established a Safety Advisory Board "to advise us on best practices". Yet while these partnerships have resulted in Facebook providing a 'safety for parents' section, and others on 'responding to objectionable content' and 'addressing personal safety' it would seem none of the safety experts thought a panic button was a good idea in helping protect the most vulnerable of members from predatory users.

Which is perhaps a little odd when you consider that, according to the BBC, some 44 Police Chiefs in England along with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) centre have been calling for "direct visible access" to just such a link to appear on every Facebook page. So why has the 'panic' campaign kicked off in the UK in the first place? Because a Facebook user with a false identity was sent to prison last month after being found guilty of the murder of a 17 year old girl he contacted on the social networking site. Some will argue that it's just another knee jerk reaction to a terrible crime, others that if it has the potential to save lives then surely the scheme should be implemented.

But does Facebook actually need a panic button that reports potential abuse directly to an organisation such as CEOP to investigate as well as the existing mechanisms for reporting abuse? I'm not so sure it does, to be fair. Facebook has, after all, already said that it will amend the existing report abuse link so as to enable such direct reporting to CEOP, however it has stopped short of mentioning a big red button on every page. Some other sites already carry the CEOP panic button, and pressing it provides information on dealing with various issues including bullying and inappropriate sexual behaviour. Facebook would argue that the new safety centre provides the same type of information anyway, with US child protection agencies being notified and having the power to pass any UK specific reports to law enforcement across the pond.

If pressing a panic button did something immediate and hands-on such as notify a system admin, disconnect the alleged abuser, report the details to the police for further investigation and offer the potential victim some form of counselling then I, as a father of four and grandfather of two, might be a little more enthusiastic in supporting it. As it stands, however, I would have thought that anyone concerned enough about inappropriate behaviour on Facebook to want to press such a thing would be equally as motivated to find the safety centre and follow the advice there, or use the existing abuse reporting links on every profile page.

A Facebook spokesperson told The Guardian newspaper that adding a single panic button for reporting alleged abuse would not only be less effective than the new safety centre measures but also "create an overload of work for the police and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre".

Jim Gamble, spokesperson for CEOP, has already revealed that his organisation received more than 250 complaints about potential illegal activity in the first three months of 2010, yet none of them came from Facebook directly. Which kind of backs up my earlier point that if people are concerned enough about such behaviour they are capable of reporting it without a big red button. Gamble claims that Facebook does not understand the need for prevention or deterrence, insisting earlier in the month that "they are experts commercially, but I do not see them as being experts in child protection" and arguing that Facebook is "confusing its approach to content with its approach to behaviour".

So, what's your opinion? Does Facebook need a big red panic button on every page or not?